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tS Interviews: Ma Thida

tS interviews the Burmese writer, activist, surgeon and former prisoner of conscience who has persistently challenged authoritarianism in Myanmar.

Ma Thida is a Burmese writer, trained surgeon, and activist who has been insturmental in fighting the forces of tyranny in her homeland of Myanmar. She spend nearly 6 years in jail between 1993 and 1999 for her critcism of the ruling regime. Her persistent support of Aung San Suu Kyi and demorcacy was redeemeed with Myanmar recently celebrating its first non-military government in over 40 years. That said, there is still much to be done, says Ms. Thida. In conjunction with her appearance at the Mumbai LitFest, we spoke to Ms. Thida about her literary and medical selves, the importance of children’s literature and her view on the friction that still dominates parts of Myanmar. Excerpts from an e-mail interview follow.

Can you tell us a little bit about your childhood- the books that shaped your thought, or incidents that you vividly remember that cemented your desire to fight for justice?

Since I am a mixed ethnic citizen, I learned about the inequality and insecurity in our society quite easily, and early. Because of my very considerate and kind parents, I was given the freedom to be myself. Many books I had read also help me to shape my thoughts and visions. 

"However, as you said, we now have our beloved leader in power thought it is still in negotiation with old people. Even this could not have happened if we who were killed, imprisoned and deported to other lands did not contribute and continue our unbowed, persistent resistance."
Does your interest and passion for healthcare and medicine intertwine with your love for writing and poetry? Are there any parallels between these facets of your life?

Sure, healthcare is all about helping patients to overcome physical illness, mental struggle and social difficulties. In this sense, the patient is the centre of interest for healthcare professionals. I love people and I love taking care of them, talking about or with them, and reflecting and responding to their suffering. This is how my interest and passion for both healthcare and literature come together easily. I also get chance to learn how people think and feel easily from my patients. The only vast difference is that the result out of my effort as healthcare provider is immediately obvious though the impact of my effort as writer is slowly penetrating.

"Attitude and behavior can easily be changed or shaped by what you read."
Myanmar recently celebrated the first non-military government since 1962, with Aung San Suu Kyi assuming the role of State Counselor - can you tell us a little bit about that day and how you felt knowing that your efforts  had been part of the forces of democracy finally clocking a victory?

Well, our destination is not yet reached. What we seek is not having a leader in power, but making people participate in the decision-making processes of state. So in this sense, we still have long way to go. However, as you said, we now have our beloved leader in power thought it is still in negotiation with old people. Even this could not have happened if we who were killed, imprisoned and deported to other lands did not contribute and continue our unbowed, persistent resistance. For that reason, I am happy.

Despite this great surge forward, there continues to be much to contend with particularly with the violence in Rakhine state - can you tell us a  little bit about this and how you think the government is dealing with the situation?

In fact, violence is not present just in the Rakhine state. The international media and community should learn more about our society’s problems in the sense of political conflict, rather than ethnic or religious conflict. Things are far more complicated than they seem. The current new civilian cabinet is trying to enforce its authority as a government but it they seem to be not very successful. News from remote places like Rakhine and Kachin state is mostly processed by the army or former administrative officers since access to these places by independent media is limited.

"The only vast difference is that the result out of my effort as healthcare provider is immediately obvious though the impact of my effort as writer is slowly penetrating."
The Tata LitFest instituted a new award called the Big Little Book  Award which focuses on awarding regional children's literature in India. Were there any books your read as a child that have stuck with you till today? How much importantance do you think the development of children's literature should be given?


Children literature is really important. What i remember is cartoons and comic books. I do not remember names of those but Myanmar comics illustrated by artist U Ba Kyi are still remained in my mind. Attitude and behavior can easily be changed or shaped by what you read too.

the Scribbler Staff

the Scribbler Staff